Veronica Cay

Across a new body of work entitled "conversations with my aunt," Veronica Cay finds surprise in her dialogic engagements with material, art history, and the individual figures which populate her imaginative life.

conversations with my aunt, Cay’s current show with Anthea Polson Art, is named after the dialogue Cay wishes she could have had with her mother’s sister, about whom Cay knows only precious little information. What Cay does know is that this aunt, Dorothy, led what was by all accounts a vibrant life, deeply unconventional in its time: she left home in Toowoomba at fifteen to study at what is now the National Art School, and after completing this study was instrumental in setting up the Sturt Gallery and Studios in Mittagong. Moving from Mittagong to Tasmania, Dorothy taught in a local Quaker school, joining the movement around this time after having been raised in the Methodist church. After this period in Tasmania, she moved to Yorkshire and began an adoptive family with her partner, Molly.

In this figure of her aunt, Cay senses an adventurous spirit with whom she would have loved to convene; the exhibition is, in a sense, a way of achieving this dialogue upon which the historical doors seem closed through a side window. Looking at the work, we see the imputed character of Dorothy, and Cay’s reaching toward her, everywhere: in the peripatetic impulse of Cay’s referencing, the multi-focal lens turned toward art and material history, and the openendedness with which stories are found and told. 

Particular art-historical figures emerge amongst Cay’s forest of references. There is, for instance, the fifteenth-century Florentine painter Paolo Uccello, whose tripartite history painting The Battle of San Romano, 1460, is reworked in Ucello’s hat, 2021. Jacqueline Houghton, in the show’s catalogue essay, captures the reference-relationship succinctly: “Rather than the realism of Uccello’s battle scene, Cay’s abstracted melange of combatants is enmeshed within swathes of vibrant colours. The turban-like headdress worn by the victor is the only identifiable semblance.” There are references both ancient and modern and somewhere in between, as in the sense – memory was a powerful reminder, 2021, where a black-and-white checked floor gestures to the perspectival innovations of Piero della Francesca but also, to my eye, to mid-twentieth century domestic interiors (really, to my own family’s parquet kitchen floor, with those same black-and-white squares in sticky plastic).

In many instances, references and relationships emerge by a sort of surprise, catching Cay in the act of mark-making. unplanned consequences and a stroll along La Grande Jatte, 2021, for example, echoes in its palette, its acute and urgent sense of duration, and its energised slashes of white, the Suerat painting of almost the same name. As Cay tells it, these echoes emerged unplanned, and are un-obvious to the unknowing eye; her practice is intuitive and highly gestural, and her art historical conversations desultory – as perhaps all useful conversations should be.

Across both painting and ceramic work, clearly-drawn faces leap out from bodies, rooms, and multi-species situations with an alarming clarity. From the medieval, the modern, and the ancient – rendered in thick layers of paint applied with a brush attached to a metre-long stick – springs forth an arresting personality. conversations with my aunt imagines what it might be to connect with the people half-glimpsed and fully wished-for amongst our long, shared cultural archive. 

conversations with my aunt
16-30 October 2021
Anthea Polson Art, Qld

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